undokai_savvy tokyo
Photo from Savvy Tokyo

Today is October 10. Until the year 2000, October 10 was a national holiday in Japan called Sports Day, marking that momentous occasion in Japanese history – the start of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo.

It is also a time marker to note when primary and nursery schools across Japan engage in the gathering of children, teachers and parents for undokai, an event dedicated to sporting events. Since 2000, Sports Day was moved from October 10 to the second Monday of October to ensure that Japan always celebrates with a three-day weekend. It is that weekend in which the undokai is often held.

According to this guide, typical sports organized at undokai are the running sports, but also include three-legged races and the formation of human pyramids. As the students get older, that sense of competition increases, but the overwhelming atmosphere is one of cheer and support, with shouts of “ganbare!” to encourage them to do their best.

I remember my son’s first undokai when he was 2, in the same way many parents do – through the countless pictures and video taken of the time. My son was going to a nursery school, and the teachers helped put these somewhat distracted, somewhat awkward children through the various running, jumping and throwing competitions.

Here’s my son in a throwing competition.

 

Orinpikku_no_Minoshirokin_Ochiai and Shimazaki
Inspector Ochiai faces off with Shimazaki in the film, Olympic Ransom.

It’s October 10, 1964, past 2pm and 70,000 people who filled the National Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo are buzzing with excitement. Kunio Shimazaki, a student of the prestigious Tokyo University, has entered the stands, making his way towards the top of the east facing part of the stadium and the Olympic cauldron.

As Emperor Hirohito’s high-pitched voice declares the Olympic Games open, Shimazaki holds explosives in one hand and a lighter in the other, approaching the yet-to-be lit cauldron with deadly intent. The police surround Shimazaki, and up steps Inspector Masao Ochiai, his grip on his gun tightening.

olympic ransom book coverThis is a scene from the novel, Olympic Ransom (Orinppiku Minoshirokin) by Hideo Okuda, highlighting the national urgency of the time, to ensure that the 1964 Tokyo Olympics begin and end successfully, thus re-establishing Japan’s re-integration to the world community. A terrorist attack like the one Shimazaki hoped to carry out did not come to pass in the novel, but he, through the writing of Okuda, brought attention to the challenges of the Japanese economic miracle and the sacrifices made at the time.

While the Japanese economy was steaming ahead on the eve of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, GDP growing from 8.8% in1963 to an incredible 11.2% in 1964, there were sacrifices, and omissions of prosperity. In the novel, Shimazaki is from an impoverished town in the Northern part of Japan, Akita. Although he was able to break the cycle of poverty by gaining admission to the best university in the country, his older brother had to work long days on punishing schedules in Tokyo to help the city complete all of its infrastructure projects in time for the Olympic Games. And one day, his brother was dead, a result of an exhausting workload and a dependency on drugs.

Days before Inspector Ochiai stops would-be terrorist Shimazaki at the National Stadium, they meet at Tokyo University. In the film produced by Asahi Television in 2013 based on Okuda’s book, Shimazaki explains to the inspector why he is looking to make the authorities in Japan pay.

Ochiai-san, do you know there is an underground passageway into the National Stadium? An underpass to all for the movement of players from underground into the world’s best stadium? The country has spared no expense in the making of it. Due to various pretexts though, the use of it was stopped. My older brother for the sake of constructing that unused underpass was forced into working shifts of sixteen continuous hours. In order to get through those shifts he turned to taking bad Philopon….and died. For the national honor, the country wasted huge amounts of money all while treating migrant workers like trash until they die, paying them only tens of thousands of yen. If we don’t change something here, the unfair gap between rich and poor will go on widening forever. And endlessly the same tragedy will repeat.

As Bruce Suttmeier in his essay, “Held Hostage to History – Okuda Hideo’s Olympic Ransom” writes that Okuda’s re-imagining of history is “a thought experiment in narrative form”…with an intent to “expose political and social certainties to speculative inquiry.”

For example, Shimazaki explained in the encounter with Ochiai that his brother was sacrificed to help build an underpass under the National Stadium, and that it was not used despite the pain and labor that went into its construction. While such a tunnel was indeed constructed, the reality is the tunnel was actually used by athletes and officials alike during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as noted in this previous post.

Regardless, the point being made in the novel is that economic progress made in the lead up to the 1964 Olympics, while impressive, was not necessarily true for all of Japan. The widening gap between haves and have nots was an uncomfortable social reality, and the 1963 Akira Kurosawa film, High and Low, projects the anxiety many felt at the time.

But it’s the head of security for the Tokyo Olympics, Shuichiro Suga, who explains to Ochiai that Shimazaki is not a hero of the people, but a terrorist.

Suga: The permission to shoot to kill Shimazaki Kunio has been issued. If you find Shimazaki this time around, shoot him without hesitation. Are you okay with the Olympics ending in failure due to your sentimentality? From the ashes of defeat , are you okay with wasting what the Japanese people have gritted their teeth over and rebuilt with great effort?

Ochiai: However, for those people struggling in poverty in rural regions, They have been rewarded with nothing.

Suga: Is there something wrong with Tokyo becoming enriched? First off, Tokyo, the center of the country, should prosper, and then the other regions will gradually become richer. Don’t forget. Shimazaki is a brutal criminal, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are still exposed by this crisis. In order to protect their lives you’ll have to pull the trigger too.

Shimazaki in the stadium
Shimazaki in the Olympic crowd on opening day.

In the end, Ochia does indeed pull the trigger, bringing Shimazaki down, with nary a soul outside the police knowing that a deadly threat was thwarted. And so, the novel ends as the actual 1964 Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony ends – without incident.

In the essay, Held Hostage to History: Okuda Hideo’s Olympic Ransom, the author, Bruce Suttmeier, explains that while Okuda’s book is a novel, the author may be suggesting that so many things of significance may have happened, but that in the end, historians, authorities and society may have selective memories.

After the unnoticed shooting in the stadium and the brisk removal of Shimazaki’s injured body, the story quickly returns in its final pages to a sanctioned historical narrative, free from the destabilizing presence of a past encumbered by contingency and potential and by the weight of epistemic uncertainty.

As Suttmeier writes, when the head of security, Suga, is asked by his son whether the threat is over, Suga replies “what bomber?” In other words, why worry the public, the overjoyed and proud public with such distractions. Let the Games be the glowing symbol of Japan’s resurrection and triumphant return to the international community.

Perhaps what Okuda is saying in a way – no great triumph comes without sacrifice, and that we should peer a bit deeper into our own understandings of the past.

 

no tattoo sign

Some of the famous people in the world have tattoos. The US tattoo industry alone is a $1.5 billion business. And many of the 20 million plus foreigners visiting Japan every year are sporting tattoos. But as some visitors are surprised to learn, their tattoos are sometimes frowned upon, and result in being turned away from the hot springs and beaches of Japan.

Rugby World Cup Organizers are excited about the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament coming to Japan, and have been eager to show respect to their hosts next year. At the one-year-to-go milestone, tournament director Alan Gilpin stated in a press conference that rugby players with tattoos need to cover up their body ink.

“We will make (Japanese) people aware around the facilities that players will use in the country that people with tattoos in a Rugby World Cup context are not part of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia,” added Gilpin.

It’s a socially sensitive statement as there is generally a negative attitude of Japanese towards tattoos – a common rationale being that Yakuza were commonly associated with tattoos. In fact, there is a law against tattoo artists without a medical license, which has been enforced. And signs at pools, hot springs and public beaches commonly explain in multiple languages that people with tattoos are prohibited from entry, or at least asked to cover them up.

The Japan Travel Association (JTA), eager to avoid private establishments from kicking surprised foreign guests out of their establishments, have encouraged hot spring proprietors to relax their rules against people with tattoos. But the reality is, with the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020, Japanese will see a lot of foreign athletes with tattoos – on the beach, in the pools, all round town.

Here are a few of the Olympic hopefuls who sport tattoos.

Joseph Schooling tattoo
Joseph Schooling – swimmer, Singapore, gold medalist in 100 meter butterfly at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Shaun White tattoo
Shaun White – three-time gold medalist in showboarding halfpipe, American, and potential Olympian in skateboarding at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

 

Simon Biles tattoo
Simone Biles – gymnastics, American, four-time gold medalist

To think that Japan is anti-tattoo is taking a negative perception too far. The fact is the number of tattoo artists (despite the law) has increased significantly in the past 30 years. And foreigners with tattoos who come to Japan feel that attitudes are shifting. According to best-selling Australian author, Tara Moss, “there is a quiet rebellion against these prevailing rules and social norms in Japan.”

I received several compliments when mine were visible, and one of my favourite moments on our most recent trip was when I had a summer dress on in the subway and my forearm tattoos were showing. One particularly cool young man seemed quietly fascinated, and rolled up his shirt sleeves silently to reveal the very lower edges of his arm tattoos. We were part of some similar ‘tribe’. No words were exchanged, only a nod that my husband could take his picture as he posed nonchalantly against the train door.

If you have tattoos and plan a visit to Japan, Moss writes that you should take the following under advisement:

  1. Expect to completely cover tattoos at any pool, gym and most water parks and beaches.
  2. Tattoos are banned at onsens (bath houses).
  3. Many ryokans (Japanese inns) will not accept tattooed guests.
  4. You should consider covering your tattoos at any temple or sacred site.

And what does Moss suggest are the best ways to avoid Japanese seeing your tattoo?

  1. Use a rashie at the pool
  2. Book a private onsen instead of attending a public one.
  3. Use clothing/scarves.
  4. Try arm covers
  5. Use a bandaid or bandage.


Spring Forward daylight saving

2018 has been a sweltering summer in Tokyo. With temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in early August, the media and internet had a field day on perceived disastrous consequences of athletes and spectators collapsing on the streets and in the stands during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But when the idea of incorporating Daylights Saving Time in Japan came up, the media and internet in Japan had another field day condemning that idea.

Why is daylights saving time – the idea of pushing the clock ahead in the summer of 2020 – being considered? There are two reasons brought up.

  • Potentially cooler weather for the marathon runners: An early start time of 7:30 am is being considered for the marathons. If the clocks are pushed one hour ahead, 7:30 am is actually 6:30 am – the presumption being that the conditions will be cooler.
  • Broadcaster’s bottom line: Additional advertising revenue for the American broadcaster could be gained by shifting the clock at least one hour ahead. If we presume that 10 am will be a starting time for a lot of major events, that would be 9 pm in New York City without daylight saving, and 8pm with daylight saving.

The South Korean government agreed to institute daylight saving time in 1988, the year of the Seoul Olympics. According to this article, a Trans World International executive named Barry Frank was hired as a consultant to the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC), and helped the committee negotiate with the networks for broadcasting rights.

Frank seemingly had an insoluble problem — an Olympics half a world away, with individual athletic federations balking at changing their starting times and U.S. television balking at paying hefty rights for delayed telecasts. Any hour he could find to add to our prime-time schedule was crucial. NBC is paying a base of $300 million for U.S. television rights, with a risk-sharing formula tied to advertising sales that could boost the fee to $500 million. “This might have been worth $25 million in the overall scheme of things,” Frank said of the daylight savings ploy.

Countries using not using daylight saving time
Daylight saving time is used in over 70 countries.

So the clocks in South Korea shifted one hour ahead in the summer of 1988. That was the only year Korea had daylight saving time.

The Japanese government may be considering it, but there may be some lingering bad memories of a time when Japan did have daylight saving. That was in the immediate years after World War II. Japan had lost the war, and was placed under the control of the Allied Powers, led by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, American General Douglas MacArthur. The Americans, thinking of the positive impact that DST has had in the US, thought the Japanese would welcome an extra hour of daylight in the summer evenings. They didn’t.

According to historian John Dower, in his book, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, the immediate post-war years were miserable ones of loss, destitution and despair. Bringing on the night, and retreating to the shadows as soon as possible, was preferable apparently.

It was also in 1948 that lingering exhaustion in the general population translated into widespread popular criticism of one of the occupation’s most minor innovations, the introduction of American-style daylight savings time. Called sanmo taimu (“summer time”) in the marvelous new pidgin terminology of the moment, setting the clock forward an hour was opposed on the grounds that it simply extended the difficulty of “daily” life. People preferred that darkness come earlier, although they did not succeed in getting daylight savings time repealed until September 1951.

When it became known this year that daylight saving time was being considered by the government to deal with the summer heat issues during the upcoming Olympics, the reaction was generally negative. The recommendation being discussed was a two-hour shift ahead, and the fears of even longer working hours filled the air, according to Reuters.

Economists said the measure’s impact on behavior could be mixed. “If people start working two hours early and finish two hours early, consumer spending is expected to rise,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, executive chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. “But given the labor shortage, the end of working time may not change and people may still work longer hours.”

That was the biggest fear on social media, where the topic was one of Monday’s hottest and worries ranged from having to reprogram computers to losing sleep. “It’s way too easy to imagine that we’ll start work two hours earlier and finish the same in the dark, meaning long days,” wrote one.

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The Olympians is three years old! Thank you all for your support!

I was happy to attend the Olympics for the first time at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And what an amazing time I had. I felt like a newspaper reporter again, and generated close to 30 articles while I was there from February 8 to 18. I hope you like these select articles from 2018.

USA House 24_Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan at USA House.

North and South Korean leaders are talking. The momentum today is in part due to the opportunity the PyeongChang Olympics presented to the Koreans. Fingers are crossed for future talks of peace.

Chance Meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad
Chance meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad at the end of the Opening Ceremonies

And of course, it’s all about the athletes.

Savchenko and Massot 4
Massot and Savchenko in their amazing long skate to win gold
Bhagwan and Sheela
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh drives one of his Roll-Royces as Ma Anand Sheela walks alongside in this photo from The Oregonian archives.

He was a war hero in the Second World War, coming home to Oregon with a Silver Star and four Bronze Stars. He was one of the greatest track and field coaches of the 20th century – coaching his University of Oregon track and field teams to four NCAA titles, and over 30 Olympians. He would go on to co-found a company that would possess one of the greatest brands today – Nike.

Bill Bowerman was a giant in the world of sports.

And has been revealed in an amazing Netflix documentary series – Wild Wild Country – he was also an activist, standing tall in the face of a religious commune that tried to buy and build its way into a quiet farming and ranching community in central Oregon.

In 1981, a 64,000 acre plot of land called the Big Muddy Ranch was sold to an organization affiliated with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the leader of a religious movement founded in Pune, India. The organizers, led by charismatic secretary to the Bhagwan, Ma Anand Sheela, informed Margaret Hill, the mayor of Antelope, the closest town to Big Muddy Ranch, that the commune would have no more than 40 people employed on the ranch.

But in just a few years, the Rajneeshee’s built a small town literally from the ground up. According to the book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, by Kenny Moore, a growing group of red-clad sannyasin (followers) cleared 3,000 acres of Big Muddy, grew fruit, wheat and vegetables, raised cows and chickens, built a dam, a 40-acre reservoir and an irrigation system, a power sub-station, a sewage system, a phone system, a runway for their airplanes, and a transportation system of 85 school buses.

True, they used 50 million dollars in contributions from its 200,000 worldwide followers, but their Rancho Rajneesh was a labor of love for the sannyasin, and an incredible achievement. And so proud were they about their creation, they were willing to fight to keep it.

However, the Oregonians living near and around Rancho Rajneesh were concerned about the strange religious “cult” that had invaded their quiet part of the world. Bowerman’s son, Jon, owned land bordering on Rancho Rajneesh. And over time, the Rajneeshee’s would ensure their safety by beefing up their security.

“They had armed guards watching us here constantly,” Jon would recall, “with big spotting scopes by day, searchlights by night. It was like being watched by the East German border guard in Berlin. The lights were as bright as 747 landing lights, and periodically they would shine them at our house.”

Bill Bowerman
Bill Bowerman

At first stunned at the scale of Rancho Rajneesh, and the brashness of their denizens, local citizens began to push back. Bill Bowerman, who was constantly in conversation with state and local authorities regarding the ongoings of the Rajneeshpuram, decided to form a non-profit organization, Citizens for Constitutional Cities, that raised funds to legally oppose the Rajneeshees. In his press release, he laid down the gauntlet.

My ancestors have lived in Oregon since 1845. My son Jon is a rancher in Wheeler County. Bowermans past, present, and future are deeply committed to this state. Thousands like me have become concerned about the effect this group has had on its neighbors. As an educator and coach at the University of Oregon, I have always welcomed and encouraged new ideas and diverse people to come and live in this great state, irrespective of race, creed, national origin, or religion.

Citizens for Constitutional Cities is going to monitor the activities of the Rajneeshee and challenge them in court if necessary to avoid the creation of unlawful cities in this state and protect our citizens from harassment and intimidation in violation of Oregon and United States Constitutions.

In the statement, Bowerman includes phrasing to diminish the idea that his organization was about religious discrimination, which the Rajneeshee’s claimed was the case.

As the documentary powerfully shows, the bigger issues may have been attempts by certain leaders within the Rajneeshees to win power in local municipalities in order to ensure their legal status as a city. According to the documentary, their tactics included importing people (primarily homeless people from across America) to vote on their behalf, harassment, mass poisoning, and attempted murder.

In the end, the Rajneeshees failed to convince the authorities that they were victims of religious discrimination. On the contrary, they were found to have violated the US Constitution’s directive to ensure separation of “Church and State,” as the incorporated entity of Rancho Rajneesh did not appear to clearly separate government leadership from religious leadership.

Bowerman was in the middle of this constitutional fight, and as he had done his entire life, he won.

I heavily encourage you to watch Wild, Wild Country.

Lee Sang-hwa and Nao Kodaira
Lee Sang-hwa comforted by Nao Kodaira, with bronze medalist Karolina Erbanova in the background

The final race had completed.

The South Korean champion, Lee Sang-hwa had the weight of the world as she sought her third consecutive gold in the 500-meter speed skating sprint in front of her home fans, but just fell short to Nao Kodaira of Japan. Circling the oval in tears, Lee came upon her rival, her Japanese friend, Kodaira, who put her arm around her shoulder, and created a lasting and powerful image of sportsmanship and friendship – words not often associated with Japan-Korean relations.

Koreans may have been celebrating the unification Olympics, waving the blue-on-white flags showing a single Korea, but the Japanese government wasn’t pleased, officially protesting the use of a flag that included a tiny dot to the east of the Korean peninsula. The Japanese government calls that area Takeshima and believe it is a part of Japan, but it is also called Dokdo in Korean and in fact controlled by South Korea.

It was the Korean’s turn to be offended when NBC analyst, Joshua Cooper Ramo, covering the opening ceremonies at the 2018 Winter Games, described Japan as “a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945, but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.” The analyst was removed from the broadcast, but the pain remained.

That is until gold medalist Kodaira and silver medalist Lee came together.

The day after their battle on the ice, the two were huddled together near the medal awards stand, cheerfully awaiting their medals. They decided to kill time by going live on social media platform, Instagram, for twenty minutes. People then realized that Kodaira and Lee were indeed friends. In a comfortable mix of Korean, Japanese and English, the two fastest women speed skaters in the world gaily exchanged wishes from their fans, talked about food, music and how they would celebrate when they received their medals.

As you can see in the video of the Instagram feed, they are reading and translating the comments for each other. Early in the broadcast, Lee put her arm around Kodaira and said they were “tomodachi” – friends. We learned that Kodaira likes the Korean dish bulgogi, and that Lee’s birthday was only a few days later (February 25). She made a point to repeat that – “Nao, my birthday this Sunday. Presento onegai shimasu.”

Absolutely, this exchange was one of the sweetest moments of these Olympic Games.